Undergraduate TA position nixed

By Lesley Rogers

A controversy at NIU surfaced after a letter to the editor was printed in last Thursday’s Star regarding undergraduate teaching assistants.

The letter was written by an angered undergraduate who was not allowed to become a teaching assistant in the geography department.

“We decided last year early in the semester that we needed to go to exclusive graduate students teaching undergrads. Most departments require it and we had a lot of sentiment in the department to go to strictly graduate students,” said John Harlin, chairman of the geography department. “I do not know who promised this student a TA position.”

The student, Perry Shafran, a senior meteorology major, was informed that he would be able to apply for a TA position for the lab of an Introduction to the Atmosphere course by the professor of the course.

“I signed up for the section and for a meteorology teaching workshop, and I thought all summer I would have the job,” Shafran said.

When he returned to NIU this fall, Shafran heard from a friend who heard from another TA that the department was no longer hiring undergraduate teaching assistants.

As a teaching assistant, Shafran would have been in charge of teaching the weekly lab, grading the lab assignments and reporting to the professor of the course, who does the actual lectures.

“Actually, last semester I knew lots of undergraduates that were TA’s. In fact, I knew very few graduate TA’s,” Shafran said.

An opportunity to teach undergraduates is a privilege that should be reserved only for graduate students, said Sue Doederlein, assistant dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“I don’t feel students should be taught by persons that are candidates for the same degree. The idea is, if you are a candidate for a baccalaureate degree it would be better that you did not teach students who were also going for a baccalaureate degree,” Doederlein said.

She did say, however, she believes that some exceptions can be made.

“It would be appropriate for a person who is doing extremely well in their classes to assist, but teach in a low-level gen-ed. class,” Doederlein said.

“The graduate TA’s haven’t taken any extra courses. All I don’t have compared to them is a degree,” Shafran said.

This policy is not just confined to the geography department, but each individual department regulates its own policy.

“I am not aware of any college-wide policy that addresses this issue,” Doederlein said.

“I have no objection to undergraduates as TA’s,” Shafran said. “I think undergraduates would be good TA’s if they know what they’re talking about.”

However, the geography department disagrees, and Harlin commented on the fairness to other undergraduate students.

“We had letters from undergrads saying they were concerned about the quality of their education,” he said.

“The department and I have been concerned about this whole issue. I would like to speak to this individual (who wrote the letter) and smooth over any problems that might exist,” Harlin said.

“We decided last year early in the semester that we needed to go to exclusive graduate students teaching undergrads. Most departments require it and we had a lot of sentiment in the department to go to strictly graduate students.”

John Harlin

geography department chairman